Chinatown

Chinatown ★★★★½

Noirvember 2021 #27

Noir as capitalist cosmic horror, the veils of the Hays Code ripped away to reveal the American leviathan in all its incomprehensible oppressive immensity. The familiar conspiracies of old now like entangling tentacles that only further blind and ensnare as a lowly investigator moves closer toward disturbing enlightenment. Kind of ironic that I followed up The Long Goodbye with Chinatown; Polanski’s classic eviscerates the genre just as much, if not more so. Each reveal and moment of clarity further renders Nicholson’s private detective a myopic pawn, renders his investigation an insignificance against forces so insidiously powerful they might as well be gravity compared to his gumshoe orbit. 

Amid Chinatown’s unraveling mystery, the genre’s witty retorts become a facade of false bravado, every astute deduction a delusion of truth in the face of murky malefactors beyond truth or laws or justice. (The correlation between the director’s evil and the film’s darkest reveal is stomach churning.) From the soft LA hues turning noir monochrome into sun-tinted canvas, to the wealth of gripping performances - Nicholson’s increasingly-small and reality-battered PI Gittes, an elegant and soul-crushing Faye Dunaway, a reptilian gravel-throated John Huston - Chinatown is a precision genre construction that solidifies noir’s thrills, intrigue, and trappings as America’s Sisyphean nightmare.

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